Jennifer Shepherd serves as Hanlon’s ‘gatekeeper’

by Elizabeth Smith | 3/3/14 7:40pm

by Kelsey Kittelsen / The Dartmouth

Waking every morning at 4:30 a.m. to a day of phone calls and as many as one email per minute, Jennifer Shepherd is no stranger to handling busy lives. Shepherd, who in the past worked as an assistant to actor Will Smith, has served as College President Phil Hanlon’s administrative assistant since June.

Shepherd spends her day scheduling and organizing Hanlon’s meetings, trips and other engagements. At the office by 7:30 a.m., she usually works until 5 p.m., when she leaves to pick up her 6-year-old daughter, but on other days, she stays until 6 or 7 p.m.

Shepherd came to Dartmouth eight years ago, after discovering that she enjoyed the pace of life in the Upper Valley and began working for the Dartmouth College Fund. Her father-in-law, former Dartmouth Professor Jack Shepherd, pestered her to work at the College, she said.

She then took a job as an administrative assistant in the executive vice president’s office, before becoming house manager for former College President Jim Yong Kim.

Prior to Dartmouth, Shepherd worked in Los Angeles for 10 years in the film and television industry, where she spent two years as Will Smith’s assistant. She then moved to Boston, where she worked as the administrative assistant for the chief operating officer of Parexel, an international biotechnology pharmaceutical company.

“The type of job that I do can transfer to any company,” Shepherd said.

“Her job is to make sure that I’m as effective as possible,” Hanlon said, adding that she is “the best he’s seen” at ensuring that he is prepared to do his job.

As the “gatekeeper” to the president’s office, Shepherd said each of her days is unique.

In addition to organizing the president’s schedule, Shepherd ensures that Hanlon can meet impromptu requests that come up every day. Students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members visit the office regularly, presenting a challenge.

“It’s dealing with a puzzle all day, and every day that puzzle gets thrown up in the air, and I have to put it back together again,” Shepherd said. “That’s what I do all day, but it’s fun.”

The two joke that Hanlon’s schedule resembles a game of Tetris, she said.

Though the number of tasks that must be completed in a short time span can be anxiety-inducing, Shepherd said her work does not usually faze her.

“I don’t get stressed very easily,” Shepherd said, “and neither does Phil, which is awesome.”

Even when working on something of great importance, Shepherd handles obstacles and interruptions with ease, special assistant to the president Madeleine Overman said. She noted Shepherd’s upbeat, welcoming personality, calling her “the face of the office.”

“She’s welcoming, organized, has a great sense of humor,” Overman said. “She’s unflappable.”

Shepherd said the best part of her job is meeting a range of people she otherwise would not have the chance to interact with.

“I work with smart people — they care, they’re funny, don’t take themselves too seriously and they just want to do what’s best for the College,” Shepherd said. “From my working experience, that is huge because I think egos get in the way a lot of the time, and that’s not the case.”

Another perk to her job is the Upper Valley lifestyle, she said. While living in Boston, she commuted to work on a bike but was bothered by the fumes and traffic. She said she enjoys gardening and composting, activities that her Boston neighbors considered strange.

To relax, Shepherd enjoys running. She also raises dogs, cats and chickens. When she’s not at work, she spends her time playing with her daughter.

“There’s something about being around a kid that requires honesty,” Shepherd said. “So you’re just totally yourself.”

The large reception office where Shepherd works is clean and white, dotted with a few pieces of brightly colored artwork. Green chairs and couches encircle a table piled high with national newspapers and Dartmouth publications.

“I’ve worked with four executive assistants, all of them outstanding, but Jen is far and away the best,” Hanlon said. “She really is.”

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